Business School Research for Social Good

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Monday, August 17, 2020
By Elliot Davis
Photo by iStock
Three examples from AACSB's Innovations That Inspire challenge highlight ways that business schools are leveraging their research for positive societal impact.

Business schools are known for producing high-quality research and, as demonstrated in our 2019 Innovations That Inspire showcase, this research can have real, immediate relevancy when put into practice. In fact, many business school faculty members are aiming to make their research not only relevant to today’s business world but designed to generate positive societal impact.

AACSB’s 2019 challenge called on schools to share ways they were producing impactful research. We were impressed by how many of these submissions focused in on social impact. Examples include Fundação Getulio Vargas EAESP’s Innovating the Applied Research Model, Hult International Business School’s Relevant Research in Practice, and Singapore Management University’s aptly named Ensuring Societal Impact Through Business Research, to name just a few.

In the 2020 call for submissions, AACSB sought to highlight business school activities that served as catalysts for innovation. Once again, AACSB member schools shared some very innovative ways that they were leveraging their faculty research to create positive change in society. The following are three examples from AACSB’s Innovations That Inspire database.

+Impact Studio: Translating Research to Practice

The University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business (United States)

Business faculty produce high-quality research with the potential to address an array of societal challenges, yet there are few mechanisms to translate their findings and insights into practical applications. Academic incentive systems measure research impact based on counts of journal articles and citations, while there is often little reward for faculty to engage real-world challenges directly.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurship education often encourages a “pitch” mentality aimed at persuading investors, not at addressing big challenges with well-grounded solutions. At Michigan Ross, the +Impact Studio was created to equip students to be the architects of 21st-century approaches to a sustainable future. The studio is a social innovation laboratory that translates faculty research into solutions to pressing challenges, such as poverty, water access, financial inclusion, job creation, and inequality, in the service of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Through an extended “design arc” over two semesters, professional students in business, public policy, social work, public health, and other schools on campus collaborate as teams to apply human-centered design tools to creating enterprises or policies viable for implementation. Thus, students provide the link between faculty research and impact in the world. The final deliverable for each set of teams is a feasible business model that then launches, drawing on resources at the University of Michigan.

The studio impacts include both a distinctive educational experience that trains students to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries to design durable solutions, and a set of enterprises and policies that launch at the end of the design process. The school expects that the studio’s existence will create added incentive to produce faculty research, as the prospects for translation into practice helps shape the kinds of research questions pursued.

Business In Conflict Areas Research (BICAR)

The University of American University of Beirut, Suliman S. Olayan School of Business (Lebanon)

The Business in Conflict Areas (BICAR) initiative offers expertise on entrepreneurship to help improve the selection and support programs currently being implemented in conflict zones. The BICAR innovation leverages business knowledge on entrepreneurship to improve humanitarian programs being deployed in conflict settings, resulting in better livelihood, employment, and peacebuilding outcomes for refugees, internally displaced persons, (IDPs) and vulnerable host community members.

To achieve these outcomes, BICAR has been working with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to collect and analyze data concerning business-based livelihood programs across the Levant region, namely in Iraq and Lebanon. The objective of the partnerships has been to understand which type of entrepreneurs and business models reduce poverty and foster peace. This is done by triangulating traditional business knowledge on entrepreneurship with real-time data and adjusting it to the vulnerability needs of those living in conflict zones.

The BICAR innovation has generated several early-stage outputs, creating an impact both in academia and practice. Papers have been presented and published in a wide variety of journals and publications. The next phase includes reporting, and developing selection tools for IOM, which over the past 10 years in Iraq has supported over 33,000 businesses. Specifically, this work will help IOM identify potential growth entrepreneurs, while also being used to tailor existing programs to better support the needs of local businesses. Even small improvements in the programs of IOM will result in drastic employment and innovation improvements in regions like Iraq; BICAR aims to export such lessons to others in the humanitarian sector in later phases of the project.

MBA Mentorship Program Leveraged for Societal Research

S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research (India)

Several years ago, the prime minister of India announced that the country's two highest denomination currency notes would be withdrawn. The plan, called demonetization, was aimed at reducing so-called black money. However, the impact of demonetization on poorer segments of the population were unknown, and conducting a systematic study of the potential impact presented challenges. S.P. Jain was able to step in to assist by leading this research through the Abhyudaya program.

Abhyudaya is a mentorship program that aims to foster social responsibility among business school students through experiential learning. MBA students mentor children from nearby underprivileged areas throughout their first year. For this project, the lead faculty for Abhyudaya worked with the MBA students and children to conduct a two-year research study on demonetization. Faculty and students worked together to design and execute the questionnaire. The survey was then executed by MBA students and their mentees, who were themselves residents in the communities where the survey was conducted. This local access to survey participants enabled trust, enabling the research project to move forward. The survey consisted of 37 questions, which addressed families’ initial response to the demonetization announcement; the economic consequences for their income, expenditure, and savings; changes in payment choices following demonetization; and a subjective assessment of the policy.

The study has resulted in several research publications, with findings widely reported in the press. Researchers further presented their results to the policy research body as well as to the Strategic Research Unit at Reserve Bank of India. The study leveraged the existing Abhyudaya program in a unique way and provided new learning opportunities to the MBA students, while simultaneously having an impact on society.

The 2021 Innovations That Inspire challenge will provide opportunities for business schools to showcase even more ways they are creating positive societal impact. Look for details to be announced in September!

Since its launch in 2016, Innovations That Inspire has collected over a thousand innovative practices across a variety of themes and areas within business education. For each challenge year, a selection of innovations is featured at the International Conference and Annual Meeting (ICAM). Further, current members of AACSB’s Business Education Alliance can browse through all innovations using DataDirect. Recently upgraded with a new layout, the Innovations That Inspire Search is easier to use than ever before. AACSB continuously highlights submitted examples in publications, events, presentations, and in other media as examples of business schools doing innovative things that push the boundaries of business education.

Elliot Davis
Director of Data Strategy, AACSB International
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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